There are some things in life that we have always wanted to do, but don’t get the opportunity or we aren’t sure of the outcome so we refrain ourselves from doing it. I had the same thought (the latter, that is) and am not someone who is used to doing things alone or by myself. During my last trip to Singapore, while I was visiting from family, I had a few extra days on hand and was wondering what to do with the extra time. the next thing I knew at around 11:30 p.m. on a Monday night was that I had just booked my tickets to my first solo trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia!
I am an independent person but there are some things I like to do when I have company for instance – travel, eating, sightseeing etc., So, the moment it hit me that I would be leaving for Cambodia, my first ever solo trip within a couple of days, I started panicking. Slowly, I realized that this might just be the opportunity to change my perception and of me being able to do things on my own and not always dependent on somebody.
Without further ado, let me share my experience that changed and shaped my life when I decided to take the step to do something that I feared the most!
Getting there: Since, I was in Singapore, the connectivity is beyond amazing to everywhere in the world from Changi! Siem Reap is a small airport and mostly ATR’s fly in to the country, so be careful to pack your luggage accordingly. you will end up buying plenty of elephant inspired souvenirs, so pack accordingly. Siem Reap airport is very well connected has daily flights to the country with layovers via the busy airports – Changi etc.,
Visa on arrival is an easy task, so make sure to carry 1 passport size photo, your passport (of course) and a pen along with $35 USD for the fee. I got my visa within 5 minutes after submitting my passport and immigration form to the officer. Another reason why I chose Cambodia over any other destination – very impressed and satisfied with my choice especially after obtaining the visa. You can also apply for it online here.About: Ever since I took the leap and did the trip, I have seen so many people travel to this beautiful country, and will not be surprised to see that the most travelled or favourite destination of 2018 will be Cambodia!
Siem Reap, Cambodia is a place that has something for everyone – sightseeing, ancient history, night market, nightlife, shopping among others.Currency here is Cambodian Riels or USD which are used interchangeably. I tried to look to exchange money before leaving but I realized once I got there is that it’s easier to deal in USD for your sanity and to stay away from calculating. Almost all your transactions will be communicated to you in amounts of USD. 1 USD = 4000 Cambodian Riels approx
Stay: one of the best things about SE Asia is the varied options of stay & food available in all budgets. Since, this was a solo and backpacking kind of a trip, I decided to try this on a minimal budget and stayed in a hostel. while I was searching for options on www.booking.com, I came across this party hostel – Funky Flash packer which is a 5 min walk from the market and pub street. there are several hostels and hotels (budgeted) in the market area as well, which would be a better option if you are looking at a quick walk back to your room after a night from the market or partying (which will be wise, so consider this option).
Funky flash packer was a fantastic hostel; it has dorms with shared common bathrooms along with individual rooms with a private bathroom. I chose the latter, so I didn’t have to wait to use the common showers etc., Hostels are my preferred choice for various reasons including the budget, meeting new people, the location among others. In hindsight, the only time I wished I was at a different hostel was when I wanted to sleep in a little but couldn’t due to the loud music – after all, a party hostel comes with its pros and cons. there is music playing 24×7 (they give you a disclaimer when making the booking as well!) at this property and is always buzzing with people from all over the world. I would recommend you choosing this hostel if you are looking to make your first solo trip even more special- I know mine was! Onederz is also a good option to be considered for a hostel.
Food: one of the main reasons I also like travelling is to try out the various foods available across the world and being a vegetarian Siem Reap was a pleasant surprise! Here is a list of various places and things to eat in Cambodia. Make sure to take a walk around the area on your first day so you can mentally make a note of the things/places you want to try out in the next few days you are here. With so many options, this will be imperative in your planning, or you will only have a list with uncrossed items on it by the end of your trip.
- Plenty of options for veg – during most of my travels to SE Asia, I’ve had to settle my meals with eating noodles, bread, cheese, fries or a burrito bowl. With the recent rise of adoption of Vegetarian and Vegan ways of life, this trip to Cambodia was so easy for food. With plenty of people following Buddhism, there is a lot of awareness of vegetarian food, hence the ease of finding the same.
- Pancakes on cart – while walking around the market street, I found plenty of carts which are easily transportable through a scooter, making hot fresh pancakes (like a roll) for a quick snack. I had the Nutella flavoured and it was quite a steal for $1.
- Make your own ice cream – one of my other favourite finds from the carts laid out at the market street was the make your own ice cream cart where they make it for you in front of you. I got the bubble gum flavour with lots of candy as toppings.
- Angkor beer – This is a tradition I like to follow everywhere I visit to try out their local food and the local beer, and I did the same in Siem Reap. The local beer is called Angkor beer and is served everywhere in cafes, pubs, department stores and is available for as cheap as $0.50 for a pint (during happy hours!)
- Indian restaurants – if you are someone who will miss Indian food, don’t worry, there are a few hidden Indian restaurants in the market street area as well. They serve some good food as per what the locals said. I didn’t have the time to try it out as I was too occupied pigging out other cuisines!
- Khmer cuisine – the local food and cuisine of Cambodia is Khmer, which you will find many across the country – name of restaurants and the availability of the dish in vegetarian options as well. A few of what I tried – Mee Kola, a vegetarian noodle dish, Amok, a popular Khmer dish, Prahok fried in banana leaves with fresh green vegetables and steamed rice.
- Noodles – when in SE Asia, I am almost always OD’ing on noodles. I love having various types of noodles with exotic vegetables and different sauces. I tried these noodles out at a restaurant right before I started my trip to the temples for breakfast. Yes, I had noodles for breakfast 🙂
- American inspired cafes – if you are looking at spending a quiet afternoon/evening with a good cup of coffee and book, there are a few cafes where you can head to for the same. They’re all located within walking distance from each other in the market street area.
- Night market – around 10 pm, the market streets are lit up and buzzing with carts, music and people on the streets regardless of what day it is and it stays like that until the wee hours of morning. here you will see carts selling cocktails, ice-creams, food, pancakes, barbecued rare insects among others.
- Dance your heart away – pub street in Siem Reap, as the name suggests, is full of pubs, restaurants, cafes and bars of all cuisines and for every mood. pretty much every night is a party night here and the music gets better as the night progresses. so grab your drink and dance the night away. The party goes on until the wee hours of morning and you will never want to stop dancing, but, when you crash in your bed, you’ll probably get the best night’s sleep ever. There are plenty of tuk tuks lined up at every part of pub street and for as cheap as $3-$4 USD you can be back at your hostel/room.
- Dance on the streets – partying is crazy in Siem Reap, and I mean every bit of it. I remember dancing on streets with friends I had met at the pub, mostly everyone is friendly and welcoming. With the music playing loud from one bar to the other, it tends to get a little crowded. If you are someone who needs their space but the party must go on – go ahead and try dancing on the streets of Siem Reap, it’s an experience you will remember forever.
- Mobile party carts at night – As if there weren’t enough bars and pubs, the folks in Siem Reap have mobile bars where they sell margaritas, Mojitos and beer in a cart for as low as $4USD with every cart playing its own set of playlist of the latest tunes which you will certainly identify and groove to. This was a novel concept, which I was very impressed with. If at all, walk down pub street at night to experience this.
- Bar crawl – there’s a famous bar crawl that takes places once a week, which is a great opportunity to meet new friends and check out the hot spots of Siem Reap’s pub street joints. Check here for more details and updates.
- Shop your heart out – beware of the check in bag weight limits – as much as I was tempted to shop and bring back souvenirs I was alarmed by the baggage limit, which gave me a good reality check to keep everything within limits. Cambodia is known for its elephant and temple inspired products & souvenirs, so don’t be surprised if you are going crazy shopping way more than what you actually need or want (after all, everything is very cheap and affordable!)
- Meet new friends – another reason to do a solo trip, meet new people from various walks of life. You can also take this time to connect with yourself and spend some time alone (if you are into that sort of thing), it’s a great feeling. I some amazing people from France, China, Philippines among others – and the best part? We all are still in touch, occasionally sharing updates of happenings in our lives.
- Try out exotic food on the streets – SE Asia is known for its exotic food finds and Siem Reap is no less. You’ll find various cart selling barbecue worms, spiders and other insects on a stick for you to eat and try out starting at $2USD. If you want just a picture, you have to pay full price even if you aren’t going to eat – so beware of that.
- Get a massage on the go – if you walk by pub street during the day and the night, you will see the place transform into a completely different setup/surrounding, giving you the feeling of it being a new place altogether. During the day, they have many massage parlours just on the corner of the street where you can pamper and indulge yourself to getting a foot, back or body massage on the go at affordable rates.
- Be amazed at how a pint of beer is cheaper than a bottle of water- YES! My first purchase in SR was a bottle of water and a pint of Angkor beer which was priced at $2.50 and $0.50 respectively.
- People watch – another thing I like doing when I just want to sit and not think or do anything is people watch and try to imagine where they are from, what their habits are like among others. I did just that from one of the cafes, and it gives me a new perspective to how different we all are, but so similar in some habits at the end of the day.
- Temples – Siem Reap is a paradise for tourists and it has plenty of things to do and keep you occupied. The ancient ruins of Angkor Wat and other temples around the area will fascinate you and charm you to entering another world altogether. The experience is best left unsaid, and more to be experienced. The one day temple pass is available at $97 which takes you to over 5+ temples in the vicinity. I hired a tuk tuk for the day (for $15USD) and it stayed with me from 11 am to 7 pm taking me to the different temples i.e. the short 1 day temple tour including Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Keo, Banteay Kdei, Bayon.
- Curated trips – the hotel/hostel you are staying with also have tours and trips available that can be arranged for you to the nearest waterfall which is 2-3 hour drive followed by a mini trek to the waterfall where you can dip in the water, enjoy a nice meal. They offer similar trips and packages to the circus – performing almost every evening at 7 pm, the floating village for fishing, ATR bike rides among others. be sure to enquire with the front desk.
- Siem reap ‘s markets – shop you heart out at the markets. You will find great local products as well as knock-off products to shop from.
- Tuk-tuk is your best friend – I mean it, tuk tuk will take you everywhere and at affordable prices. I prefer walking, so I can explore different areas of a place, but the tuk tuk is very helpful in getting you around the city.
- Night market – a small tucked lane part of pub street has a variety of offerings for you to shop from for local clothing, souvenirs etc.,
- Pub street – my favourite and most visited place during my stay here. Pub street has everything you could possibly need. Food, clothes, shopping, grocery, bikes, tuk tuk, name it and you’ll get it here. You will probably end up spending a lot of your time here, so choose your hotel around the area.
- Take the bus to Phonm Penh – visit the capital of Cambodia, a 5 hour bus ride away to see the city charm of the country. I didn’t have enough time to get to the city but, I hear it’s a good experience and definitely worth a visit.
- Connectivity to other parts of Cambodia/Koh Rong, China etc., SE Asia is very well connected to other parts of the region and so is Siem Reap. If you are looking at adding in some beach and tropical time into your itinerary, be sure to check out Koh Rong, Sihanoukville for the same. You could also do an extensive Asia trip including the neighboring countries – Vietnam, Laos, Thailand etc.,
Safety: I found Siem Reap to be pretty safe, especially since I was travelling alone for the first time. Be sure to use travellers common sense, and stay away from dimly lit areas or less crowded streets so you aren’t walking yourself into danger. Be friendly to the locales and they will be nice to you. Areas around pub street are well lit and easily connected within walking distance to hotels and hostels. So, I encourage you girls and guys to take on this solo trip planning and convert into a reality. It is an enriching experience in not just quantity but also quality.
You will learn so much about history, people, food, cultures and most importantly, yourself.
Have you ever taken a solo trip? if yes, share your experiences with me!